Abomination of Desolation

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The scriptural phrase “abomination of desolation” is used to describe conditions of desolation caused by abomination and wickedness. In the scriptures, an abomination is something that causes disgust or hatred to the righteous and pure.[1] Wickedness is evil, iniquity and disobedience to God’s commandments.[2] Desolation is grief, sadness, loneliness, destruction and ruin. Thus, the abomination of desolation describes conditions of grief, sadness, loneliness and ruin brought about by people who have turned away from God and His commandments.

Jerusalem Wall abomination of desolation

The prophet Daniel prophesied of a day when there would be the “abomination that maketh desolate.”[3] In the New Testament, the Savior recoined the phrase, foretelling of “the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet.”[4]

Daniel’s prophecy was dualistic in nature—meaning that it could apply to more than one occurrence. The conditions of desolation, born of wickedness and abomination, were to occur twice in fulfillment of Daniel’s words—the first in A.D. 70, when Titus and his Roman legions laid siege to Jerusalem, and the second following the Restoration of the gospel in the last days. In a general sense, abomination of desolation also refers to the judgments of God that will be poured out upon the wicked in the last days.[5] The scriptures teach, “Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets” Amos 3:7. The Lord sends His servants the prophets to warn the people to repent. Those who heed His warnings and change their ways are spared destruction, those who don’t are not.

Titus’ Siege of Jerusalem

The first occurrence of “the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet”[6] was in A.D. 70. Of this, the late Elder Bruce R. McConkie—then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (with the First Presidency, the governing body of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, sometimes inadvertently called the Mormon Church), said:

the Jewish War abomination of desolation
The first was to be when the Roman legions under Titus, in 70 A.D. laid siege to Jerusalem, destroying and scattering the people, leaving not one stone upon another in the desecrated temple, and spreading such terror and devastation as has seldom if ever been equalled on earth. Of those days Moses had foretold that the straitness of the siege would cause parents to eat their own children and evil to abound.[7]

Unimaginable Destruction

The destruction and devastation at this time was unimaginable. The desolation born of abomination was so awful that even Titus—the Roman leader attacking the city—was sick at heart.[8] One commentator told the story:

…Vespasian was … sent from Rome to crush the rebellion. He took some of the strongholds of the Country and approached Jerusalem. Internal strife prevailed there, and such horrors were perpetrated that Vespasian decided to give his army a rest, while the Jews destroyed each other. Vespasian was elevated to the throne, and his son, Titus, was left to continue the conquest. The siege began in the year 70 A.D. Soon famine prevailed. Citizens who ventured outside the walls to search for roots to eat, if seized, were crucified by the Roman soldiers. Sometimes hundreds in that awful position could be seen from the walls. A trench was dug around the City, in order to make its isolation complete. … Six hundred thousand persons died within the walls, and the dead bodies, too numerous to be buried, were left in the houses. The Zealots, a fanatical sect whose members maintained that God would save them at the last moment, went about murdering and urging the people to resistance. Even Titus was sick at heart at the daily horrors he witnessed or heard of. At length the temple became a fort. Titus attacked it as such. A Roman soldier, contrary to order, set fire to it. After a while the scene was one of carnage and plunder. Six thousand Jews perished in the flames. In this awful war more than a million and a half of the Jews perished, and many were sold into slavery, and thus “scattered among all nations.”[9]

The temple was a massive structure. George A. Horton, a professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University, explained:

Some of the blocks were 67 1/2 feet long by 9 feet thick. The temple towered 100 feet into the air, fronted by two immense columns. The imposing structure was laid waste, with no part of the building left intact. Only a part of the original wall that had surrounded the temple mount remained.[10]

The Abominations That Led to Destruction

But why such utter destruction, such desolation? The late Elder Marion G. Romney, an Apostle of Jesus Christ until his death in 1988, said:

You all know the sequel, how the Jews carried through their awful plot and crucified the Son of God, and how thereafter they continued to fight against his gospel. You remember, too, the price they paid, how in 70 A.D. the city fell into the hands of the Romans as the climax of a siege in which the historian Josephus tells us there were a million one hundred thousand people killed and “… tens of thousands were taken captive, to be afterwards sold into slavery, or to be slain by wild beasts, or in gladiatorial combat for the amusement of Roman spectators.”
All of this destruction and the dispersion of the Jews would have been avoided had the people accepted the gospel of Jesus Christ and had their hearts changed by it.[11]

The Jews refused to accept the gospel of Jesus Christ. They rejected the true prophets of God but embraced and followed false prophets who led them to their destruction. According to Josephus, Titus himself said that he had tried to spare the people of Jerusalem and their city if they would but surrender. The Lord’s prophets had told them the same thing. Titus tried to spare the temple and its riches—but the Jews would not.[12]

The Saints Escaped Destruction

There were some in Jerusalem who escaped destruction. How did they do this? By following the words of the Lord and His prophets. About a week before He died, the Savior warned His followers about events that would happen after His death. He told them to flee Jerusalem when they saw the signs that He prophesied. Jesus Christ told them to watch for the day when:

And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another…. And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.[13]

The Lord told them to watch for two signs. He said:

When ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh.”[14]

Matthew records these words of the Savior:

When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains: Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house: Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes.”[15]

Of this reference, George A. Horton Jr., a professor of Ancient Scripture at BYU, said:

The abomination had happened in 170 B.C. when the Syrian king Antiochus IV ordered a massacre in Jerusalem, profaned the altar of the temple, and carried away the temple treasures. The horrifying events under Antiochus were familiar to every Jew, and those who heard Jesus’ reference to Daniel vividly understood the Savior’s prophecies.[16]

Four years before Titus began the siege of the city, the faithful followers of Christ saw the signs and fled to Pella. The scriptures do not record this, but historians do.[17] Professor Horton said:

Jesus had given adequate warning, and those who heeded the prophecies survived, while most others perished. Pella continued as an important Christian center for more than seventy years, during the time that Jerusalem remained desolate.[18]

Second Siege of Jerusalem

Daniel prophesied of a second siege of Jerusalem in the last days just before the Savior returns to the earth. Of this Elder McConkie wrote:

All the desolation and waste which attended the former destruction of Jerusalem is but prelude to the coming siege. Titus and his legions slaughtered 1,100,000 Jews, destroyed the temple, and ploughed the city. In the coming reenactment of this “abomination of desolation,” the whole world will be at war, Jerusalem will be the center of the conflict, every modern weapon will be used, and in the midst of the siege the Son of Man shall come, setting his foot upon the mount of Olives and fighting the battle of his saints. (Zechariah 12:1-9)
Speaking of these final battles which shall accompany his return, the Lord says: “I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity, and the residue of the people shall not be cut off from the city.” However, the final end of the conflict shall be different this time than it was anciently. “Then shall the Lord go forth,” the prophetic record says, “and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle. And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, … and the Lord shall be king over all the earth.” (Zechariah 14.)[19]

Some have interpreted this as apocalyptic in nature—that it is the ushering in of the great battle of Armaggedon and the end of the world.

Judgments of God in the Last Days

Abomination of desolation also refers, in a general sense, to the judgments that will be poured out upon the wicked in the last days—meaning the last days before the Savior returns again to the earth. But, just as Amos said, the Lord will always send His prophets to warn of the dangers ahead and call people to repentance. Elder McConkie said:

The only way for men to escape the abomination of desolation to be poured out upon the wicked in the last days is for them to repent and live the gospel.[20]

This is the reason that the Lord sends His servants to preach His gospel unto all nations, kindreds, tongues and peoples.[21]

President Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the First Presidency, said:

There seems to be no end to the Savior’s desire to lead us to safety. And there is constancy in the way He shows us the path. He calls by more than one means so that it will reach those willing to accept it. And those means always include sending the message by the mouths of His prophets whenever people have qualified to have the prophets of God among them. Those authorized servants are always charged with warning the people, telling them the way to safety.[22]

Watchmen on the Tower

Prophets are watchmen on the tower, warning us of dangers and pointing the way to safety. Elder M. Russell Ballard, an Apostle of Jesus Christ, said:

…The exact time of the Second Coming is known only to the Father (see Matthew 24:36). There are, however, signs that scriptural prophecy relating to that tumultuous day is being fulfilled. Jesus cautioned several times that prior to His Second Coming, “many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many” (Matthew 24:11). As Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ, it is our duty to be watchmen on the tower, warning Church members to beware of false prophets and false teachers who lie in wait to ensnare and destroy faith and testimony.[23]

The events of the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 illustrate the dangers of following false prophets and the importance of knowing the difference.

Elder Ballard warns of false prophets and teachers:

… Let us beware of false prophets and false teachers … who speak and publish in opposition to God’s true prophets….
False prophets and false teachers are those who arrogantly attempt to fashion new interpretations of the scriptures to demonstrate that these sacred texts should not be read as God’s words to His children but merely as the utterances of uninspired men, limited by their own prejudices and cultural biases…. False prophets and false teachers are also those who attempt to change the God-given and scripturally based doctrines that protect the sanctity of marriage, the divine nature of the family, and the essential doctrine of personal morality….
Regardless of which particular false doctrines they teach, false prophets and false teachers are an inevitable part of the last days.[24]

Jesus Christ told His followers that when they saw the signs, they needed to “stand in holy places.[25]

These holy places are found in the words of ancient and modern prophets. Elder Boyd K. Packer, an Apostle of Jesus Christ, taught:

We live in perilous times; nevertheless, we can find hope and peace for ourselves and for our families. ... “Be not afraid, only believe.” Righteousness is more powerful than wickedness.
Children taught an understanding of the scriptures early in life will come to know the path they should walk and will be more inclined to remain on that path. Those who stray will have the ability to return and, with help, can find their way back….
Paul and others warned about the trials of our time and the days yet to come. But peace can be settled in the heart of each who turns to the scriptures and unlocks the promises of protection and redemption that are taught therein. We invite all to turn to the Savior Jesus Christ, to His teachings as found in the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price.

The Lord has commanded His followers to reprove “the world in righteousness of all their unrighteous and ungodly deeds, setting forth clearly and understandingly the desolation of abomination in the last days” (Doctrine & Covenants 84:114, 117; 88:84-85) so that those who heed His words can avoid the “desolation and utter abolishment” that will befall the wicked.


Additional Resources

References

  1. See Abominable, Abomination in the Guide to the Scriptures.
  2. See Wicked, Wickedness in the Guide to the Scriptures.
  3. Daniel 11:31.
  4. Matthew 24:15.
  5. See Abomination of Desolation in the Bible Dictionary.
  6. Matthew 24:15.
  7. Bruce R. McConkie, “Abomination of Desolation,” Mormon Doctrine, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966) 12.
  8. See Josephus, The Jewish War, (New York, New York: Penguin Books, 1984) 364-365.
  9. Hyrum M. Smith and Janne M. Sjodahl, Doctrine and Covenants Commentary (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Publishing Company, 1978) 260-261.
  10. George A. Horton, “Be Ye Also Ready,” Ensign, June 1989.
  11. Marion G. Romney, “How Was the Prophecy Regarding the Destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem Fulfilled?” The Life and Teaching of Jesus and His Apostles, Chapter 22, Section 1.
  12. See Josephus, The Jewish War, (New York, New York: Penguin Books, 1984) 364-365.
  13. Matthew 24:10-12.
  14. Luke 21:20
  15. Matthew 24:15-18
  16. George A. Horton, “Be Ye Also Ready,” Ensign, June 1989.
  17. George A. Horton, “Be Ye Also Ready,” Ensign, June 1989.
  18. George A. Horton, “Be Ye Also Ready,” Ensign, June 1989.
  19. Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1965) 1:659–60.
  20. Bruce R. McConkie, “The Lord God of the Restoration,” General Conference, October 1980. See also Doctrine & Covenants 84:117.
  21. See Revelations 14:6-7.
  22. President Henry B. Eyring, “Finding Safety in Counsel,” General Conference, April 1997.
  23. Elder M. Russell Ballard, “Beware of False Prophets,” General Conference, October 1999.
  24. Elder M. Russell Ballard, “Beware of False Prophets,” General Conference, October 1999.
  25. Matthew 24:15-18